Dario Calderone


Andrzej Kwiecinski: ershallen, for doublebass and orchestra. Notes and interview with the composer.

Sunday 19th of April 2015, last Sunday, I’ve premiered the new concerto for doublebass and orchestra ershallen by Andrzej Kwiecinski, at festival of premières of new music in Katowice with National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra. Conductor was Szymon Bywalec. It is a wonderful piece of music, a great sound experience. I have interviewed the composer shortly before the concert. But first I’d like to talk a bit a about the piece under a technical point of view. The whole piece makes extensive use of a special technique, consisting in playing in the very high register of the instrument (precisely the area of natural harmonics from 7° to 20°) partially damping the string. The composer prescribes a special sign in which describes the relationship between noise and pitch that he wants to hear. This, as I said, is achieved by damping slightly the string with the palm of the left hand, in order to avoid any free resonance, and using half of the pressure with the finger on natural harmonics. The change in amount of pressure determines the change of relation between these 2 elements: from pure white noise to the pure resonating sound of the free natural harmonics.

ershallen per post

After a certain point of the piece this technique is also used in combination with circular bowing; although the space between the left hand and the bridge is quite small, the effect of these 2 techniques combined is surprisingly clear. Last, but not least, a multiphonic played in Pizzicato on 2 strings, segments the piece in several sections, stretching the sense of time to the dimension of an insect. The orchestra part is always respectful of the doublebass. Very often we’ve seen doublebass players fighting against the amount of sound that an orchestra has, especially in one register we know we have better competitors, at least in terms of amount of sound. Although the doublebass plays almost continuously through the piece, the interventions of the orchestra are episodic and isolated, so that they have specific functions. First of all they show the structure of the piece; as a second function they resonate with the dublebass, amplifying what happens or just happened in the doublebass part, through spectral chords, white noise and reminiscences of one preexisting tune, of which AK will explain more during his interview.


What is this piece about?


The title ershallen is intended as Resonance. This is the last word of the third sentence of the cantata of Buxtehude “Mit Fried und Freude”. I’ve been using this cantata as a reference point for other pieces of mine, but there’s no religious meaning in that; this is the first time I use what comes after the contrapuncti of the cantata, which is the Klaglied, the funeral song.


What is the connection then with the Buxtehude composition? AK The Klaglied has always fascinated me for different reasons. First of all it’s a lied, therefore it’s repeated many times (precisely 7 times). But the construction of the form is bizarre because the climax of the lied, with the voice reaching his higher notes, occurs around the first third of the piece, giving an asymmetrical construction, coming unsuspected close to the beginning. Moreover it’s an extremely challenging piece for any voice, because the tessitura ranges from a low B, below middle C, and a top G, with very wide jumps, completely unprepared.


This makes me think of how you treated the solo doublebass part. It’s extremely challenging especially because of the high amount of jumps.


Sure. But the connection is also formal. I wanted to compose a lied reflecting the specific form of this klaglied, with a small climax occurring at the same point as in Buxtehude composition. The climax is spreading out the melody, more and more, gestures are faster, and this brings to the tutti, which for me is a very sad moment, with 90 members of the orchestra playing white noise. After this you feel like the piece is going somewhere, but there’s just a chord from the trombones and that’s it. I would call it more an anticlimax. Everytime something is build up, the pizzicato of the doublebass destroys everything.


I think that the idea of threshold is another connection between your piece and the Klaglied. The idea of death has always been central to all christianity: it’s a threshold which divides two worlds, the real world and the eternal life world. This threshold is very evident in your piece: the solo part is almost not heard, and you compose sounds that are always between sound and pitch. It’s so soft in some parts that I have to imagine the melody that I’m playing. This condition puts the performer in a state of consciousness in which we could say that we try to imagine what’s on the other side of the threshold.


The connection with the Klaglied is very personal: it associates to a moment of deep sadness and despair. Actually I wanted to write a piece about writer’s block: it’s when you stand in front of a blank page for months, the piece is in your mind, but you cannot express it. This inability of expressing anything is terrifying and awful. That’s why the title: things should resonate, but they don’t, everything is muted and dampened. The whole piece is build around the inability to speak. The doublebass part is built around very high natural harmonics which cannot ring; it tries to resonate, ershallen, but cannot really get out of this cage. The orchestra tries to accompany you, but it’s all empty. There are only some pitches which resonate. In the beginning of the piece for example, the trumpet introduces some fragments of the Buxtehude’s melody, just some notes from the soprano part. But I’ve decided to use just a few notes from this piece, more specifically just those which occur on words which have a specific mean to me, which resonate with me.


What is the relation between the solo part and the orchestra part?


They are on two different plans, but they coexist; it’s not like in a traditional concerto, in which they establish a dialog. They are two different entities, although there’s a connection, which tries to exist. The idea of un-communicabilty extends then also to the relation between the solo and the orchestra. The whole piece can be seen as an entity which tries to exist but fails. There’s a power, an energy, that tries to form into existence , but always fails, never succeeds.

22-04-2015, Amsterdam


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This entry was posted on 23 Apr 2015 by in new pieces.